Discover more from Oklahoma Columnist, by Clay Horning
What defines greatness? What determines best?
Between Norman North basketball, Sooner football, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, can we come up with any answers?
Beatles, right? Not close. It has to be them.
Then, probably, the Stones. Then it gets interesting.
Is it The Who, Pink Floyd or Zeppelin?
Is it Eagles, Crosby, Stills and Nash or Creedence.
Is it Yes, Rush or The Moody Blues?
Is it the Ramones, REM or New Order?
Is it Metallica, AC/DC or Iron Maiden?
Or, for crying out loud, is it Cream, Blind Faith or Eric Clapton all by himself?
It’s not easy.
Whatever your list, think about why.
For me, it’s Beatles, Stones, The Who.
But Rush is my favorite band.
And in College, New Order kind of changed my life. Just blew me away.
I’ll take REM over the Eagles as American’s greatest band, but if you’ve got The Beach Boys over the Ramones, I’ll simply compliment your knowledge of music history.
Wait, is it Boston?
How do we judge?
It has to be some combination of utter success, of invention and coming first; longevity’s a factor, influence, too, and, maybe what the critics said at the time and what they said 20, 30, 40 and 50 years later.
Because it’s good to endure.
Now, take all of that, start thinking about athletes, and try to put these two terms front and center: greatest and best. And maybe this one: better.
If, by chance, you’re stuck on talent, you’re no longer considering greatness, only how great somebody could have been, should have been or might have been.
Two things have me thinking about all this.
One, I’ve always had some unique opinions, a few of which I shared in one of my last columns as an employee at The Norman Transcript:
Jason White was a better Sooner quarterback than Sam Bradford, Baker Mayfield was a better Sooner quarterback than both of them and you just have to take Kyler Murray off the table because he only played one season.
Curtis Lofton is the best Sooner linebacker of the Stoops era, though Roy Williams, who defied position, is the best defender, period. and if you want to put Williams in front of Ryan Broyles as an all-timer, you can have him, but you must make Broyles your best non-QB, non-defender since Stoops arrived and if you think Adrian Peterson deserves that spot, just stop because he’s looking up at Samaje Perine and Quentin Griffin, too.
Two, Lindy Waters, who was a year ahead of Trae Young at Norman North, who had a fine-but-not-spectacular college career at Oklahoma State, was just signed to a two-way contract with the Thunder and Wednesday, playing 8 minutes, scored five points, ripping a 3 for his first NBA bucket.
That 3, by the way, is a big part of Waters receiving his two-way deal. In the G-League, playing for the Oklahoma City Blue, he was knocking down 48.3 percent of his attempts.
If you follow me on Twitter — @clayhorning — you might have seen what I said upon Waters’ signing, that he, nor Young, were the best player at Norman North when they were there together, because that player was Marcus Dickinson, who played four years at Boise State, starting 51 games, averaging 22 minutes over 123 appearances, averaging 4.8 points and 2.1 rebounds over his collegiate career.
I know Young’s the most skilled of the trio, the biggest college prospect of the trio and certainly the best pro, and still I’m convinced that a team led by Dickinson and Waters would have won the 2017 Class 6A state basketball tournament, while the team led by Young and for which they started finished runner-up, because when Young was on the court, he marginalized the players around him, a problem he also had at Oklahoma and has suffered a bit in the pros, too.
Dickinson and Waters were complementary players who could be singularly great when they had to be, who made excellent decisions and defended wonderfully. Young scored and assisted, played no defense, suffered horrendous shot selection despite all the points he scored and had few leadership qualities.
Indeed, the year after Dickinson and Waters left, Young’s senior year, the T-Wolves failed to reach the state tournament at all, even with a team that included Charlie Kolar and Drake Stoops, who were pretty good on the hardwood, too. And the year after that, after Young had moved to Lloyd Noble Center, Norman North went back to the state tournament without him.
So, best or greatest high school player to come out of Norman North?
He can be passed, of course.
But not by Young, who might end up in the Hall of Fame.
What do you think?
What do you think, too, about those Sooner opinions up there.
I can’t prove it, but I’m convinced Jason White was making plays and Sam Bradford, mostly, was just hitting open receivers.
Bradford’s numbers are bigger and his passing efficiency is higher, but White’s also the last Sooner quarterback to play for an uninventive offensive mind, Chuck Long, with the possible exception of Landry Jones, who suffered through Josh Heupel.
Again, I can’t prove it, but I’m convinced OU would have been fractionally better with White in 2007 and 2008 and fractionally worse with Bradford in 2003 and 2004.
Both won the Heisman Trophy, one was drafted No. 1 overall and named rookie of the year at the next level and the other wasn’t drafted at all, nor ever took a professional snap, even in the preseason.
Greatest Sooner running back of all time?
Everybody wants to give it to Peterson because of what he did after he left, while few want to give it to Greg Pruitt or Billy Sims, both of whom ran for many more yards per carry than Peterson; or to Samaje Perine, who ran for more yards and more yards per carry than Peterson; or Quentin Griffin, whose senior season included more yards per carry (6.6) and yards from scrimmage (2,148) than Peterson’s freshman season (5.7 per rush, 1,937 from scrimmage), when he finished second in the Heisman voting.
So who’s better? At OU, all of those other guys mentioned above.
As a pro? Clearly, Peterson.
What do you think?
A few more.
Greatest quarterback ever?
Is it Tom Brady or Joe Montana … or is it John Elway, who I’d rather have on my team when my team absolutely has to score right now, which is my measure, who was already that guy before claiming two Super Bowls at the end of his career.
Greatest basketball player?
I used to say Wilt, but now I say Jordan, and I’m not sure Larry and Magic aren’t 2 and 3, because they made their teams great, which I’m no longer certain Wilt did because I’m not sure Jerry West wasn’t the most indispensable Laker. And while I love, love, love Kareem, I think Magic was more important when they were together in Los Angeles and in Milwaukee, he won just the one title. Still, he’s the career points leader and won six MVPs from 1971 to ’80, so maybe Kareem should be 2 and Larry and Magic can share 3 and 4.
Underrated great thing about basketball?
No full names needed. First or last will do.
Wayne Gretzky, of course.
But you can make a case for Bobby Orr, and though some make one for Gordie Howe, I don’t see it, which is a strange thing to say about a player who had a positive plus-minus with the Hartford Whalers at 51, his final season in the NHL, but I’m saying it.
Again, what do you think?
What defines greatness?
What makes a player better than another?
Talent is for prospects, championships aren’t necessary, but great window dressing. Impact of presence vs. impact of absence is where most of the answers lie. How great is that gulf … unless you’re surrounded by superstars and then what?
No perfect answer.
I hope the journey was fun.